Debt has become a way of life — and not just for college students and those considered millennials, National Public Radio’s lead education blogger says — but rather for the entire globe.
But how to fix it? Instead of blaming the United States’ young people, Anya Kamenetz said Tuesday night, we should look to them for the solution.
“We have to be really fiercely enthusiastic and hopeful,” Kamenetz said in her speech titled “Generation Debt: Why the Odds are Stacked Against Young People and How We Can Overcome Them.” “I have a lot of faith and trust in young people because I think we’re the ones who won’t take ‘no,’ for an answer, and we work hard.”
During the talk, the last installment of the 75th season of UW-Eau Claire’s The Forum series, Kamenetz discussed the subjects of her 2006 book “Generation Debt: Why Now is a Terrible Time to be Young,” which argued that the changing nature of a global economy, student loans, credit cards, a changing job market and unnecessary spending are contributing to financial peril for America’s young people.
Although Kamenetz wrote her book about 12 years ago, when she was 25, she said she believes the topics remain relevant today.
“The trends that I talked about in that book are continuing today,” she told a small crowd at Schofield Auditorium.
Kamenetz began her talk by addressing some of the criticisms she received when she released her book — particularly a review of her book in 2006 with the headline “The It-Sucks-To-Be-Me Generation.” Kamenetz said she told this story because she knew many young people, including herself when she wrote the book, continue to be demonized for the economic deck being “stacked against them.”
“It’s not whining; it’s not complaining,” Kamenetz said. “It’s reality.”
Kamenetz said that “reality” is climbing costs in the U.S. economy. The highest climbing of them all? The cost of a college education, which most Americans are forced to pay for with student loans.
According to data from Student Loan Hero, the average loan burden for the class of 2016 is $37,172. The average for the state of Wisconsin is $30,059 and for UW-Eau Claire $26,295.
But not only is student debt a huge issue, Kamenetz said it’s a national issue, referring to the continually increasing debt ceiling in the U.S. and a global issue she termed the “eco-debt.”
“It (nonrenewable resources) doesn’t go on forever,” she said. “This is not a political statement; it’s a statement of science.”
Though Kamenetz acknowledges young people are often unfairly blamed for their student loan debt, it’s important to be fiscally responsible and to focus on getting “a human education” and building a sustainable, resilient future by following four steps: loving what you do, working hard, considering your impact and adjusting your expectations financially.
Lori Ruge-Jones, an Eau Claire resident and a UW-Eau Claire campus pastor, said she attended the speech because she works with students and wants to be able to help them navigate student debt.
Ruge-Jones said she enjoyed Kamenetz’s focus on how higher education is not really just about the academics but a greater experience of self discovery.
“What I appreciated the most is her emphasizing mentorship, not just from your parents but other adults who have lived twice your age” she said. “And the idea of trying on this new layer (while in college.)”